DEC to probe foul smelling smoke near fairgrounds

zhollander@adn.comDecember 3, 2013 

WASILLA -- A Palmer resident in the dense subdivisions near the Alaska State Fair grounds woke Tuesday morning to smoke that smelled so much like an electrical fire that she thought a nearby home was in flames.

The smell is coming from an apparent underground fire at the Alaska Demolition construction material disposal site next to the fairgrounds, city officials said Tuesday afternoon.

An Alaska Demolition manager "observed smoke and or steam emanating from the side of a filled area containing some inert demolition debris" around 7 a.m. Tuesday, said a company statement.

The employee took "corrective action" and no smoke or steam was observed by 9 a.m, according to Alaska Demolition.

The company and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said officials will meet at the site Wednesday to investigate the cause of the smell and determine if any corrective action needs to be taken. The DEC said they couldn't pinpoint the cause of the smoke or any risk until they investigate.

Lori Aldrich, a solid waste program coordinator with the DEC, said Alaska Demolition told her "steam seeps" led to the complaints.

Decomposing waste, particularly if it's wood from a burned-out house, can generate a smoky smell, she said. It's not unusual for landfills to generate gases when the heat from underground decomposition burps into extremely cold air.

"At this point, they didn't think it was a fire," Aldrich said. "On the other hand, the fire department thought it probably is an underground fire."

Until she visits the site, Aldrich said, she can't say for sure what's causing the foul-smelling smoke.

A temperature inversion held the smoke over the area Tuesday, generating numerous calls to city phones.

Palmer officials are monitoring the situation, said City Manager Doug Griffin.

"I think people are most concerned about the smoke and whether there's anything in there that could be hazardous," Griffin said.

The Palmer Fire Department responded to the site after getting a call at 7 a.m. Tuesday, according to Palmer's public works director, Tom Healy, who met with deputy fire chief Bruce Axtell at the property Tuesday morning.

Healy said he found out about the acrid smoke from someone who lives in a subdivision just south of Alaska Demolition. The acrid smell woke her up at 4 a.m. Tuesday, he said.

Healy, a former city manager, said he recalled periodic smolders emerging from the fill but not to this extent.

"You could definitely see smoke coming out of the portion of the fill there," he said. "This is the first time I've actually seen smoke coming out of there. The extent of this flare-up is probably greater than in the past."

The situation was creating heavy traffic on social media Tuesday.

Matthew Beck, a new Mat-Su Assembly member who represents Palmer, encouraged anyone who got a whiff of the odor to call the City of Palmer on his Assembly candidate Facebook page.

A mid-afternoon posting called into question Alaska Demolition's version of the situation.

"I think we know the difference between smoke and steam," Beck wrote.

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 257-4317.

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